Using Eloqua for Crisis Communications

“This is critical. This email must go out in the next 7 minutes.”

That is how much time a client of mine was recently given to send an important email announcement to their entire customer base. The company she worked for (which will remain anonymous) is a software security vendor. The email was intended to direct customers to a new patch release which eliminated a vulnerability in their product to thwart a recent cyber-attack.

Sometimes we face an important choice: When it comes to really important emails, should we use Eloqua to send the email – or should we send it using our company mail server?

For customer email announcements that involve just a handful of people at a time, it might be best left to the account manager to send the email on behalf of the company. But for companywide announcements, it makes sense to stick with Eloqua.

Using Eloqua to send crisis email instead of Outlook/Exchange offers several compelling advantages:

  • You can deploy large-scale emails to customer lists very quickly, within minutes.
  • Your email send volume is not limited by company mail server policies (you are not limited to 200 contacts per email in Outlook/Exchange Server).
  • Customers are (presumably) already receiving email from you with Eloqua, so your sender policy framework (SPF) and IP reputation within these accounts should guarantee that your crisis emails are received as well.

Using Eloqua offers you for detailed information on receipt and responsiveness to these critically important emails – opens, clicks, bouncebacks, all of which can direct further follow-up action with specific customers (did they download the patch?).

Getting an Emergency Customer List is the Hard Part
If you can imagine how things unfold in a crisis situation, minute by minute, the most challenging aspect of crisis management is not the email content itself. It’s getting the list right. Take a close look at your database and ask yourself: If you had to pull a list of our active customer contacts right now, in the next few minutes, could you be sure you could pull in 100% of your active customers? Could you get the entire list ready in 7 minutes?

The way to make your customer list available in a crisis starts with good practices in your CRM database. These include:

Having an “Account Type” field in CRM that identifies active customers and is centrally controlled, ideally by a single individual or team inside the company who can “own” the accuracy of this field.

  1. Following an established process to add primary customer contacts to CRM under these accounts.
  2. Creating integration linkage between Eloqua and CRM for account-level data.
    Having ready-made contact filters and distribution lists in Eloqua for active customer contacts.
  3. An appreciation shared between account managers, sales reps and professional services employees of the importance of CRM data (for times like this!)

In a crisis, the marketing manager should be able to prepare an email, load the active customer list with confidence that everyone who matters is included, and send the email within minutes. All without the need to upload separate spreadsheets, or deal with one-off entries.

Are Marketers Doing Enough to Prevent Data Breach?

Finally, at long last, you have reached your marketing automation nirvana. Your web site visitors are being tracked, inquiries are scored and sent over to sales, you are getting great feedback from sales on lead quality. Your teammates in marketing are also seeing good results from their campaign efforts. Time to kick back and relax knowing the business is enjoying the benefits of marketing automation.

Or is it?

If there was ever a topic to raise the ire of marketers, it’s software security. It’s got to be the “un-sexiest” area of marketing effectiveness and in my travels I find that virtually no marketing executive will ever make this an active priority (beyond vague platitudes); some would seemingly rather take a head-in-the-sand approach. Since companies tend to fund and configure their marketing automation platform without any direct involvement from IT, these systems are typically not held to the same level of scrutiny as CRM, SCM, ERP and other mission-critical systems.

Yet in the news headlines we bear witness to data thefts and other security breaches among the world’s most prominent companies and the ensuing negative publicity and loss of goodwill from customers.

Lately it seems the shift in thinking is finally underway in marketing departments and among marketing automation vendors alike, to take system security more seriously. These innovators are using the same project and security management approaches used by IT to keep their marketing platforms running safely.

Consider for a moment the kinds of actions that everyday users of your marketing software can perform right now. You would never suspect any nefarious behavior from Mary down the hall, but she might have the ability to download the entire worldwide database of personal information to her hard drive. Bill, our latest hire, couldn’t hurt a fly, but he could certainly email everyone in the database tonight if he wanted to. Imagine the consequences of either of these actions on your brand, reputation and legal liability. Imagine the drama for you personally, as you deliver testimony to senior officials on the question: “Did you take reasonable measures to secure this data?” It’s certainly in everyone’s best interests to secure your systems.

Okay, so you’ve heard the idea before. How well does your operation stack up on these four initiatives below?

Tighten up end-user access. This starts with centralizing control over end-user permissions, and making critical areas of the software off-limits to everyone except the administrators themselves. Take advantage of the native security features in your software and create custom security groups if the default options don’t provide enough control.

Disable access for terminated employees. Simple as it sounds, most administrators I meet do not have a formal provision in place to disable access to the marketing databases upon employee termination. Adding this simple checkpoint to the HR off-boarding process can go a long way to curb the risk of data theft or other breach.

Date-stamp leads when they are sent to sales. A less evident but still critical factor for compliance, you must have a clear understanding when personal information passes from one system to another. If you have not done so already, consider amending your CRM integration program to date-stamp all leads as they enter and exit the sync program. Along with improving your information compliance, this simple enhancement comes in very handy to troubleshoot “missing” leads or correcting other sync errors.

Document the main data model. Marketing automation in most companies is a distributed system that involves several software applications sharing the same data, and therefore the entire system has many fail points. The “openness” of these applications makes it far too easy for mystery fields, custom objects and bogus data to creep in, diluting the marketing team’s ability to develop effective targeting. While documenting the entire system may be “overkill,” certainly every company should maintain a list of its primary data fields, pick-list values, integration field mappings, and other core objects and compile these into a Data Definitions (DD) document for internal circulation. This living document becomes the go-to reference guide for control over any future system-level changes.

If you have only 1 or 2 of these items covered, consider performing a formal security audit with some outside help from your software vendor or partner. If you scored 3 or 4, you can get back to relaxing.

If you have other tips to share with readers on how to improve their marketing automation security, feel free to leave comments below.

Marketing Operations: Is Contracting Out Worth It?

Following the various discussion forums out there, you’ll find “marketing operations staffing practices” is a perennial hot-topic (recent examples found on LinkedIn, Topliners and MarketingProfs).

The points of view offered in these forums typically revolve around the merits of outsourcing this-or-that type of activity; which outsourced or in-sourced work lead to a tangible economic return for the marketing team; which types of contracting or in-sourcing offer a greater strategic advantage; and, which activities are good candidates for outsourcing or in-sourcing as companies grow more sophisticated with their technology usage.

Decisions on “how” to best design the marketing organization are at the heart of so many fundamental business issues: economics of course, but also job design, systems design, productivity, HR flow, employee satisfaction, knowledge management, and the list goes on. When it comes to contracting out, some managers are uncomfortable with the very idea of it. “This is our core,” is the common argument. In their eyes, a partially outsourced marketing operations team is something to be avoided – except as a last-resort. They will always push to in-source every aspect of their operations (except for the underlying software itself, which is an interesting contradiction).

Why the fuss?

Some work just makes good sense to outsource. For example, you might be the kind of person who mows your own lawn rather than hiring a gardener. But when it comes to heart surgery, there’s no argument for doing it yourself. The surgeon performs critical work that cannot be done by the patient themselves.

All else equal, the same could be said about contracting out in marketing operations.

Outsourced work doesn’t need to be complex work, either. I chose “surgeon” in the example above, but it could easily have been “janitor.”

Contracting out does not need to introduce more risk to the business. If the surgeon suddenly quit their job, or if they were somehow deemed unqualified or incompetent, you would hire another surgeon. The surgeon performs work that is “critical” to the business, but not “core” to the business. It is a subtle but important difference.

A few years ago I wanted to understand for myself if companies tend to organize their marketing departments differently as they adopt new technology. I researched 60 companies using marketing automation to examine how managers in these companies rank their firms across a wide variety of organizational design characteristics. After crunching the numbers, and ruling out some common-sense traits (e.g., larger companies have more staff, etc.) the results disproved any notion that there is an “ideal” way to specialize, centralize or outsource. (You can link to the research, here.) If the study proves out, you won’t ever find two companies who staff their marketing operations team in exactly the same way.

So as staffing practices go, we marketers are all over the map. Which helps to explain all the divergent opinions out there.

Recently my colleague Mark Radding offered his opinion on the merits of outsourcing to independent contractors from an economic perspective.  Mark is an expert CPA working in the Boston area, offering accounting and tax services to small- and medium-sized businesses who use contracting in a variety of different functions. He outlined the sizeable advantages of outsourcing in one of his recent newsletters. While the IRS, workers’ compensation boards, unemployment compensation boards, federal agencies, and even the courts each have slightly different definitions of what defines an independent contractor, thus leaving some room for interpretation, we can still generalize accurately about the productivity and cost-effectiveness of outsourcing.

Bearing this in mind, the advantages of “contracting out” can be classified into three broad categories:

1. Contracting out eliminates the overhead costs associated with FTE headcount. While direct wage costs are generally higher than equivalent FTE salaries, independent contractors do not collect employee benefits, insurance, pensions, vacation pay, or sick pay.  Companies do not have to pay federal payroll taxes for contractors.  Contractors also provide their own facilities, equipment, and ongoing training/certification, an important saving.  Lastly the complications of unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, federal and state wage, hour and labor law compliance are all bypassed.  Externalizing these direct and indirect costs represents a considerable economic advantage over keeping full time employees employed to do the same work.

2. Contracting out allows the firm to staff up or down faster.  Contractors work for either fixed periods of time, or in projects with fixed deliverables. Either way, the closure of the contract presents an opportunity to review performance and productivity, and adjust the next contract up or down to best meet forecast staffing needs. Compare this to employees, who require a longer ramp-up time, are fixed in their workload capacity, and where productivity and performance may only be formally reviewed on an annual or quarterly basis (even if they are “at-will”). The flexibility to change the lineup faster creates a valuable option for the marketing team, to best meet the variable workload with projects and keep labor costs low.

3. Contracting out can foster more innovation. Contractors who work for more than one client at a time offer an excellent competitive advantage that stems from “cross-pollination.”Contractors import new skills, capabilities and innovations from their other engagements and this continues well after their original date of hire. This doesn’t mean they will play fast and loose with your corporate IP, it just means you’ll benefit from their insight of how other companies are doing perhaps a very similar thing.

While the added savings, flexibility and knowledge-sharing are all attractive advantages of contracting out, it’s important to weigh the possible tradeoffs:

Higher turnover.  Attracting and retaining qualified contractors can be difficult. Many contractors enter the field involuntarily, undertaking contract work as a bridge to their next full-time gig. The ups and downs of contracting can be very disruptive. Contractors who abandon their contract halfway through to pursue the perks and stability of full-time employment can be tremendously disruptive, leading to inconsistent service and outages for the marketing team while replacement hires are found.

Inconsistency.  Departing specialists who take their tacit knowledge with them can induce a “collective forgetting,”, putting the organization at significant risk. Three preventive measures mitigate this flight of knowledge. One is to document. Second, put each new candidate through the same selection and new hire process as FTEs (verify claims of past experience, make sure the goals, check references, etc.). Lastly, once hired the contractor should be managed as though they were an employee themselves, in spite of the technicalities of their employment arrangement.

Security risks.  Does contracting out lead to more data theft, increasing the likelihood of system failure or other security breaches? Reasearch does not substantiate this theory, but companies can bolster their security by making sure contractors operate as securely as employees do. As a prospective client candidly admits, “We don’t want our contractors messing things up any more than our employees already have.” While colorful, this statement also underscores just how important it is to have effective security policies that apply universally to both employees and contractors.

Redundant labor.  As the contract labor pool is established, this often introduces the perception of redundant capacity within the department, with FTEs who perform (or want to perform) the contracted work. This redundancy is not a bad thing in itself (think twin engines) but can produce goal conflict and power struggles. Managers can avoid this pitfall by clarifying the “boundaries” of each job, set goals to minimize any competition for shared resources or expertise, and prepare their contingencies for succession.

What can managers make of these tradeoffs?

Foremost, if you find yourself captivated by someone who claims to have a grand unifying theory about how to successfully staff your marketing operations team, treat it with a healthy dose of skepticism. There are no quick fixes and since every organization has a different situation, the “best” staffing solution will be contingent on many factors including those above.

Keep an open mind about employing a mixed labor pool that combines the very best of your available in-sourced and outsourced talent. The more options you have to source talent, the better the outcomes for your business.

The value of your own intuition is not to be underestimated! Rather than looking to formulaic approaches, take a contingency approach to your staffing strategy. Start with an inventory of all of the routine skills and classifying the long list into two columns, one representing “core” activities (sacred, must be performed by employees) and the other for “critical” activities (important to our success, but not core). Then, take the list of “critical” activities and compare them to the pros and cons as outlined above. Where could you find more efficiency?